Monday, May 21, 2012

Summer Reading

   What can you say about a good book that hasn't already been put into words?  Truth is nothing, but since I love to read and I seldom mention books on this blog I thought I would devote at least one entry to the books and authors that I recommend everyone read.  Warning: This Is Not A Fishing Post.  If you don't read anything longer than a 250 word blog post then this might not be for you but if you do occasionally pick up a book, grab a beer, and sit on the deck then listen up.
    First up is my all time favorite books by my favorite author; Ernest Hemingway.  I have read nearly everything he has ever written including dispatches to the Toronto Star newspaper when he was just starting out.  A few of those early writings were even laced with fly fishing the great north woods.  The Sun Also Rises also has a bit of fishing but its mostly about Spain, Bullfights, and a group of ex-pats that go to party.  Great read! and if you don't get it all in the first read then read it again... I have 4-5 times... I'm fairly dense.
 If you haven't read any Robert Louis Stevenson then you are one depraved individual.  What kid doesn't like pirates right?  Anything by him is money.
    Then there is the few that go along with him like James F Cooper or Jack London, both of which are great authors even if Cooper can be a bit long winded.  I would also say you are safe with anything that Mark Twain penned. As a kid that spent a whole lot of time on the banks of the Mississippi, his book Life On The Mississippi opened up a whole new world for me when  it came to understanding what this country was like back when Samuel Clemons was a riverboat captain.  Roughing It wasn't that bad either.
    Which brings me to a great work by one of our nations top exploring teams; Louis and Clark.  The Journals Of these two men are a must in any woodsy persons library.  If cant stand reading history (honestly I just worked with a guy that said he hated history....I was dumbfounded) then at least have it as a reference.  I found it fascinating to hear how open and wild this country was only two hundred to three hundred years ago.
    Bartrum is another more dry account of exploring this country before it was made a country and might be interesting to Southerns but L & C would be the most notable and easy to find choice.

    If you are looking for a bit more of a political underlining theme then look know further than Ayn Rand.  "Who Is John Galt?"  If you don't know then pick up this book.  It was written sixty or so years ago but could have been written yesterday.  As a girl Rand escaped the communist revolution and saw first hand was a socialist society can do to the human spirit.  A lot of schools and media outlets shy away from this book because of some of the politically unpopular views but I think every person should at least take a look.  Its a big book - we are talking War and Peace big - but it is much easier to get through than Dickens.
Next is any first hand account of a WWI, WWII, Vietnam, or any war veteran.  Seven Roads to Hell was picked because It Was Amazing.  If you don't read history then you don't understand the sacrifices people went through to make this country great.  I have many first hand accounts on war including many that come in this series of World War II Library books, some of which were written by German Panzer commanders and a Japanese Zero pilot.  Do your country proud and pick up a war biography.  You just might learn something.

 When you are all done with that then relax with some easy reading.  Louis L'amour is one of Americas gems.  If you want an easy read and one that is about real men fighting for what the believe, then pick up any L'amour book.  You will not only breeze through them but they will take you back to the times of Billy The Kid and Wild Bill Hikcok.  If you don't feel like Clint Eastwood after sitting a spell with a Sackett novel then you are one hopeless soul.

   If you have read any two of these book that I have mentioned then you might notice a theme.  I like books that feature individuals with drive and determination.  The heroes, be them real or fiction, sport courage and a willingness to do what needs to be done.  You wont catch me reading the Notebook - though I hear its a good book its just not for me - but I have been known to pick up Walden from time to time, but then again there is a man sporting a sort of self sufficiency I hold in great respect.
    If you don't make a pilgrimage to hunt those wild Russian trout that eat duck as an entree - Or if you do and need a good book for the plane ride - read at least one good book this summer.  And no, The Orvis Fly Tying Recipe book does not count even if it is well illustrated.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Scrapyard Plug Strikes Hard

As they say,"The proof is in the pudding" and brother this fly is swimming in it.  A few weeks ago on a whim I cut up a dozen or so small sections from a wooden dowel I had laying around the garage and proceeded to whip what I thought would be a top water poppers.  What they turned out to be was a sub surface torpedo that hits bass where they live.
So as a service to my fellow fly fishing and fly tying anglers I have decided to post a quick 'how to' on making this fly.  It is also an excuse for me to share my discovery of old technology that continues to work.  No high density foam or state of the art high tech materials here; just feathers, a hook, and wood. 
   First off I know what you are thinking, "That isn't a new fly.  I have a dozen poppers like that in my box already."  And that's just what I thought until I fished it and discovered that this fly is no popper.  I had made it to be a bluegill popper but boss , this bug don't pop.  It swims and it triggers bass to bite.
    The reason why it does this is due to the density of the wood dowel.  Compared to other popper that use plastic, bass wood, or balsa, the dowel is made from high density wood for strength and as such is a much heavier wood.  When you add the hook, the glue, the paint, and heavy wraps of thread then you get this subsurface plug.
   At first I was disheartened by this discovery since I was originality going for a popper.  I proceeded to coat the first few flies with a floatant but that soon wore off and as soon as that popper became a torpedo the bass where on it like a fat man in a donut factory.  I have been out to various ponds since that day and the dowel fly has been a top producer on every outing.
    My last trip yielded me a nice 3 lb bass that took the fly like a cheetah running down a juking, jumping north African gazelle.  After a sporting fight that tested the limits a bass can jump once hooked, I landed the him and resolved to give this fly a name.  What I came up with as a no brainier and a tribute to the junk I got in the corners of my garage just waiting to be used.
    To tie your own Scrapyard Plug use your own imagination - or try and follow these instructions.  It isn't a hard fly to make but then again the best flies never are.
1  - Take a standard wooden dowel from any hardware store cut it down to usable sizes for your hook.   I used a #10-#8 popper hook and a 1/4 in wooden dowel. You want the dowel to be no longer than from the eye of the hook to even with the point of the hook  If the dowel is shorter then that will work even better.
2  -  Using a hand saw or a band saw, cut a slip in your dowel just deep enough to place the hook shank.  This is the most difficult part since the dowel is so small.  I used a pliers to hold the dowel and then took them to the band saw.  A piece of advise is not try to use your fingers to hold the dowel.  You will discover that the saw is sharp and will bite like a barracuda.  Trust me.... it hurts so use pliers.
3  -  Next take the wooden dowel and secure it to the hook shank using super glue.  Do not try and use head cement.  Supper glue is much stronger and will hold the wood to the metal longer than anything else.  I didn't use any wraps of thread before securing the dowel and have had NO problems with loose dowels on the hook.  
4  -  After the glue has dried - an hour just to be safe - I shaped the back of the dowel in a downward slope.  I used a power tool for this but you can use a carving knife or sander.  Another word of warning... Just be careful because again, the fly is small and your fingers will be close to the workings.  A wooden dowel is a hard wood and is difficult to work in small sections.
5  -  Once the shaping is complete then its on to decoration.  You do this just as you would any popper.  I took mine out back and spray painted them green, red, and light blue but its up to you.  In my opinion you can never go wrong with red.  Bass just seem to love it.  After the paint dries then add the feathers.  I also added rubber legs but have since cut all of them off.  Being a subsurface fly the legs twisted the fly in the water and honestly I got more strikes without them.  I know stick to a standard 2-3 trailing tail feathers and a few wrapped around the back 1/3rd of the hook.  Keep it simple....stupid.

    PLEASE let me know if this fly gets added to your bass box and if it works for you then send me the pick.  I would love to know if you find as much success with it as I have.
    I know that there is nothing 'new' in the fly fishing world when it comes to fly creation so I consider this a re-discovered recipe.  I discovered this more than likely the same way it might have been discovered back in the day - completely by accident.  It works and that's all I care about.   Enjoy!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Remember When....

My first hook-up with a Yellowstone Cutthroat
  Remember when you where a kid and the summers where spent traveling the back roads of America with the family.  Remember when the only map you had was a road atlas you picked up in a rest stop and no one had ever heard of gps.  Remember when you pulled into Yellowstone for the first time.  Remember when your dad finally found the 'perfect camp site' next to the lake and while the folks set up the tent and the old Coleman stove you and your siblings rushed to the water and couldn't wait to cast to those monster cutthroat.
My Dad and Me on a hike
  I Remember and if you had the upbringing that I had you can even now recall the smells and sounds of the great outdoors.  You can remember that sizzle of a fresh caught trout on that green Coleman stove.  You can remember mom priming that old gas lantern and the glow it provided as the family settled down at the camp table to play a game of go-fish.  The sites, sound, and smells of those trips stay with a person for eternity and that old green Coleman stove is seasoned with those memories that made my childhood special.
The proud angler and his catch
  When I saw that the OutdoorBloggerNetwork had partnered with Coleman I was thrilled.  “Sponsored by Coleman and hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network, this is my submission for the Coleman Camping Heritage Essay Contest.”   It turned out they where asking for stories and memories about how Coleman products had been involved in my life.  I can tell you that with the upbringing I had the memories just came flooding back.
  When I was a kid taking two weeks - or even a month - out of the summer and disappearing into the backwoods of the western US was a family tradition.  Truth be told I can remember with absolute clarity sitting on top of that bright red Coleman Cooler watching dad priming that Green stove and cooking a true back-country meal of fresh fish and baked beans.  I am not sure how old the Coleman equipment was when I was a kid but I know it was rugged and guaranteed to last.  In fact I am sure my dad still has that same stove today.  And, if I'm not mistaken, that same cooler might still be occupying a small corner of his garage waiting for the next trip into the great outdoors.

Fishing with my bro in Northern California
  Truth is that I was a lucky kid to have the experiences I had when I was young.  My brother, Sister, and I couldn't wait for the summer camping trips.  I can remember packing the car the night before a big trip and not being able to sleep.  I can remember that my folks must have been itching to get going as well because there was seldom a time when we ever left the house on a trip after 4am.  We always were a good two hours into the trip before the sun even got up.
The places we went were the mountains of Northern California, Yosemite, Oregon, Utah, The Blackhills of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and one of my favorites -  Yellowstone NP.  Regardless of the destination, nearly every place we went, fish and water were close by.  Besides the Coleman camping equipment, the fishing poles and swim suits were always a must have on any trip.
    Now that I am grown up, married, and have two kids I have vowed to give my kids the same benefits I had when I was young.  We go camping when ever we can and I am proud that my kids love the outdoors as much as I do.  Even my loving wife, who had never camped before we had met occasionally turns to me and says, "We need to go camping!".   Inevitably, within the hour we have the calendar out and are planing our next adventure.
Camping in SC
    A month ago, while on a camping trip to the beach, my family and I found ourselves wishing we had that bright red Coleman metal cooler with that handy latch on the top.  While washing dishes a few feet away from our cheaply made plastic cooler -without the handy lock - my wife was a few seconds late to catch one brave raccoon snatching our morning sausage from inside the cooler.  After the initial shock of the event had worn off we mentioned how nice it would have been to have had that cooler from my childhood.
    Nowadays my family and I aren't cruising the back country roads of the Rocky Mountains looking for camp grounds on rest stop road maps but we are covering a good deal of prime beach camping as well as Smoky Mountain sites.  When my kids grow up I hope they remember those trip with as much fondness as I do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Proving The Wood Dowel Fly Works

After one of the worst business trips I have ever been on with late and broken aircraft messing with my schedule, I returned home by mid afternoon to find that the family was still at school.  Instead of unpacking, grabbing a cold one, and start to work on the lawn, I reached for my box of newly created flies, my 6 weight rod, and I headed out to catch some bass.
     In my last post I mentioned that I had made a handful of bass bugs out of a spare wooden dowel I had laying around the garage.  During my entire four day trip I had thought about these little bugs and could not wait to get them in the water and see how they performed.  Some might say that obsessing over a few bass bugs for any amount of time is unhealthy but you need to remember that any guy that spends hours upon hours casting to illusive fish without the slightest hint of a bite might be already unhinged.  So obsessing over the homemade bugs is normal in a sort of sick way.
    Anyway, as soon as I got home I dashed out to test these little guys until the family returned from school.  As you can see, the bugs killed them.  The very first cast with the green bug you see below hooked into a good looking bass and the pictures tell the rest of the story.
Giving all the bugs equal play was important so I changed them up often and used a variety of techniques to retrieve them.  I found that the bugs seemed to excite the bass the most when retrieved with long under water pulls followed by erratic short quick jerks.
It also seemed like the bass really liked the red but every color caught fish.  One interesting discovery was how they behaved in the water.  I had expected that these little bugs would readily float on the top but what I found was that after only a few short casts, they began to sink.  This I found was an added blessing because that is where the majority of strikes occurred.   I also found that if the fly sunk to low then there was less of a likelihood of a strike.  It worked best when just under the surface, occasionally popping up after a retrieve.
I also found that since the bugs became submariners on the retrieve, they also tended to twist in the water.  I need in the future to try and solve this problem.  I am not sure how to do this so I am open to suggestions.
  After some of the bass fishing seemed to die off I headed to an area of shallow water known for big bluegill.  The smaller gills stayed away but a good number of the larger ones where more than happy to take these flies.

  Overall it was a very successful few hours and as you can see, the homemade bass bugs work.  It was extremely satisfying to see the work and the wait pay off.  It made my bad business trip fade into a distant memory.  If you would like to see how to make the Dowel Bug Bass Killer check out my last post titled Improvising Poppers.  I will try in the future to perfect this bug by reducing the line twist while keeping the semi-subsurface action this fly has.  Who knows, I might actually even post a true instructional step by step on how to create this simple bug.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Improvising Poppers

The other day I spent the morning making bass and bream poppers form simple wood dowels.  That's right, I went old school for this one.  Instead of going to the fly shop and purchasing a bag of pre-made poppers, I went out to the garage, found me a spare wood dowel from the corner where I keep extra wood, and cut them into small, popper sized sections.
I then too them over to my band saw and sliced notches in them for the hook placement.  After that I took out my Dremel and did a bit more shaping before I took them over to the vice and attached the # 8 hooks.  After that it was back out to get spray painted them back in to get all the feathers and legs attached.  I was half expecting to test them out this weekend but once again work gets in the way.  Hopefully next week I will be able to test them out.
    I know a lot of you are thinking why would I go through all the work of making my own poppers bodies instead of just going down and buying pre-made bodies - or for that matter just buying the whole pre-made popper, feathers and all?  I have done that before and they worked good but sometimes you need to create something just to prove to yourself that you can.  So the answer is a simple one for me.  I enjoy the process.  I like to feel that this fish that I catch is  not just being caught on a store made mass produced lure.  Like most fly tying anglers, I like to feel that this fish is being caught by a fly that took time to create.  It is being fooled into thinking that this fly I created is actually an edible morsel.  In the creation of this fly, I am ever more a part of the fishing process and I feel that much more satisfied in every fish I catch.  Its not just about catching the fish, it about how you caught that fish and it goes beyond the thrill of the tug.  It goes beyond just how big a bass you haul in and into how well your creation performed.  (OF course a big bass on the line doesn't hurt the  'process' of creating flies)
    On the flip side, if my 100% home made poppers completely fail to catch fish then it is that much more of a realization that the fish just might be smarter than me.  That sort of knowledge hurts.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Painting The Sunfish

   The other day I had a full day off work and had planed a grand day of trout fishing up in the mountains of North Carolina.  It had been a long time since I had the time free and the weather to make the trip but sometimes things don't work out the way you plan.  When I got home from a business trip the day before my scheduled trout adventure I was greeted by a little girl with a temperature and a stomach bug. Suddenly a trip to chase trout in the mountains didn't seem that important and staying home with my little girl became the priority.
   The good news was that my little girl got to spend some quality time with her old man.  Luckily when we awoke in the morning her high temp had broke but due to the school regs we had to keep her home anyway.  So what do two kids do with a day to burn at home?  First off we had a little breakfast and then settles back on the sofa to watch a little movie.  Next on the agenda - Break out the paints.
   It had been quite a while since I painted a fish so I cracked the watercolors and artists pad of premium paper to paint up a quality version of the bream I have been catching a whole lot of lately - the Pumpkinseed Sunfish.
   My girl on the other hand would not be satisfied with crayons so I shared the colors and she got to work painting a few butterflies and then began to sketch birds and crabs on a spare pieces of paper.  As the morning passed into mid afternoon the two of us worked across the table from each other to the sounds John Hiatt and John Prine.
   As I finished up the final touches on my work I thought back on the trout trip I was suppose to have taken and the little girl that had needed me.  It didn't take half a second to realize that I wouldn't have traded that morning with my girl for an entire week of chasing trout.  Those are the memories we carry long into our lives.
Pumpkinseed Sunfish
8.5" X  13"
Watercolor On Paper